I am constantly amazed how the airlines are solving their problems. Everyone is aware that one of the big stumbling blocks to future air transportation is airport facilities. No airport in the country is prepared to handle the new air buses carrying 400 passengers that will soon be put into service.
I was under the impression that no one was working on the crisis, but I was wrong. The airlines and airports together are solving the problem in one of the most unconventional ways that human engineers have ever devised.
They're making people walk to their destinations.
As the airports get larger, they keep extending their terminals, and the gates to the aircraft keep getting farther away.
I discovered the consequence of this the other day when I had to catch a plane in Chicago for Davenport, Iowa. I started walking toward my gate; then, realizing that I had only an hour to make it, I started jogging. A few miles later I noticed that I still wasn't anywhere near the gate, so I started sprinting. But because I was carrying a briefcase, I just didn't have the spurt I needed for the last few miles, and I missed my plane.
The airline ticket attendant was very sympathetic and said to me, "Why don't you walk to Davenport? It's only a few more miles down the road."
"Only a few more miles down the road?"
"Yes, we don't like to talk about it, because we naturally want people to fly, but most of our airline terminals have been spreading out so far, that our departure gates are located only a few miles from where people are going. If you look out the window, you can see the lights of Davenport right over there."
"That's amazing," I said. "I knew I had gone pretty far, but I didn't think I was anywhere near Davenport."
"Most people don't," the ticket attendant said. "But you see we have to keep extending the wings of the terminal to handle the traffic, and so the cities got nearer and nearer. Next year we plan to link the Davenport and Chicago airports so passengers can walk between the two of them without getting wet. It certainly will solve the pressing airport traffic problems."
I thought Chicago was the only airport doing this, but not long ago I was out in Los Angeles and had to make a plane for Santa Barbara. When I was given my gate number for the flight, I started for it. And you can imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered that by the time I got there I was only five miles from the Santa Barbara city limits.
Then recently I was in Miami and had to fly to Tampa. As I walked through the terminal to my gate, I stopped off for lunch at the Palm Beach Airport snack bar, and then continued straight on to find my plane was parked at a gate number just beyond Orlando.
I found out that every major airport in the country is now working on tunnels and ramps which will eventually hook up with airports in other cities. It's the first breakthrough in airline congestion. Engineers predict that in the not-too-distant-future, every airline terminal in the United States will be linked together, and by the time a passenger reaches his gate number on foot he will have arrived at the place where he originally intended to fly.